Hell in the Round: Soup Can Theatre’s A Hand of Bridge and No Exit

Reviewed in this essay: A Hand of Bridge & No Exit, Soup Can Theatre, which ran Mar. 27-30 at the New Tapestry Opera Studio

Soup Can Theatre’s double bill of A Hand of Bridge and No Exit in theatre-in-the-round style emphasizes the blunt reality that we can never get away from other people.

No Exit

The choice to set No Exit on a raised white cube in the middle of New Tapestry Opera Studio gave the sensation of watching a philosophical gladiator match in which each competitor’s only weapon is their own increasingly weighty presence. And what presence—actors Carolyn Hall, Daniel Pagett, and Tennille Read were well-matched as the luxurious Estelle, neurotic Garcin, and overbearing Inès, respectively.

As the three “roommates” fought to survive each other’s antagonism in Hell, becoming more and frantic and undone with every secret revealed, the audience members looked on with irreverent smiles—a testament to the skill of the actors, who elevated torture into true sport. Pagett’s brilliant comedic timing turned even the bitterest confrontations into skillful prodding.

The part of The Valet was performed brilliantly by Ryan Anning. The scenes in which he came onstage to silently enact the friends, lovers, and co-workers left behind by Estelle, Garcin, and Inès in the outside world were some of the most evocative moments of the play, particularly a steamy dancehall vignette between Estelle and the imagined presence of her bereaved young lover.

A Hand of Bridge

Samuel Barber’s opera A Hand of Bridge made a perfect partner for No Exit. The witty choice of having the characters play bridge through  electronic devices, demonstrated No Exit’s take-away line “Hell is other people” in reverse. Rather than portraying the inescapable presence of others, this opera proved how impossible it has become to engage with other people even when you’re in the same room.

The orchestra was delightful, and the creative lighting and sound design for both productions filled out the intimate theatre. For Hand of Bridge however, the theatre-in-the-round staging obscured the wit of Gian Carlo Menotti’s libretto and the strength of its performance. Some of the solos left me revising the  moral of the night to “Hell is an awful sightline in the theatre.”

If that was Hell, however, I’ll hope for the chance to visit again, as the strong performances and high production quality left me with little else to complain about. Bravo to Soup Can for such a thematically crisp double-bill offering.